On this day: the Brooklyn Theatre fire

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The destroyed theatre. X

One of the worst building fires in US history occurred in New York on the 5th of December, 1876. At least 278 – but possibly more than 300 – people were killed when a fire broke out at the Brooklyn Theatre during the final act of The Two Orphans.

The blaze began on the prompt side of the stage (the side where the stage manager sits). It was noticed part of the set had caught fire. Sets for more than one production were backstage at the time, meaning it was impossible to get the fire hose to extinguish the blaze.

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Harper’s Weekly cover reporting on the fire. X

The performers onstage were made aware of the fire, but continued with the show for a short time, worried about causing a panic. Stagehands tried to extinguish the flames, but the fire continued to gain ground.

Despite being close to the flames, several members of the performing company took to the stage to call for the audience to be calm, so that people could escape the theatre safely.

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One of those performers was Kate Claxton, who was later described as:

‘the nerviest woman I ever saw … [She] came out with J. B. Studley, and said the fire would be out in a few moments. She was white as a sheet, but she stood up full of nerve.’ X

Most of the deaths occurred in the highest, cheapest seats, where several hundred people sat, and where the narrow exit became blocked and people trampled each other. Many succumbed to smoke inhalation.

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Floor plan of the theatre, published two days after the fire. X

By the time firemen arrived at the scene nobody responded to their calls, and cracks had begun to appear in the building.

Less than half an hour after the first flames were spotted, much of the theatre collapsed.

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The theatre in ruins. X

Several years after the disaster, Kate Claxton reflected that it had been a mistake to continue the play, and that the curtain should have been kept down and the performance cancelled so the audience could have evacuated before they were made aware of the fire.

On this day…

This hand-coloured etching of London’s Theatre Royal, Drury Lane was published on the 25th of November, 1812.

When this etching was published the building had only been opened a few weeks. This is the third theatre to have stood there, and it was opened on the tenth of October that year. It is the same building that now stands on the site.

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On this day…

The Australian Women’s Weekly ran a feature on a ballet production of Anna Karenina on the 17th of October, 1979.

Featured is ballerina Marilyn Rowe, who would go on to run The Australian Ballet School from 1998 to 2014.

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The costume in the main picture is one we hired for a production of Robert Ray’s Cinderella in 1992 (in the image below).

It was worn by one of the “ugly sisters” – a little bit of a change from its original purpose!

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On this day: the death of Mia Slavenska

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Born in Austria-Hungary (now Croatia) in 1916, world-famous ballerina Mia Slavenska died on the 5th of October, 2002.

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Originally named Mia Čorak, she trained in Zagreb and became a star at their Opera House at the age of seventeen. She toured internationally and then later moved to the United States when World War Two began.

On this day: the premiere of Haddon Hall

Haddon Hall, a light opera by Arthur Sullivan and Sydney Grundy, premiered at the Savoy Theatre in London on the 24th of September, 1892.

Courtice Pounds as John Manners in Haddon Hall, 1892.

The production was based on a 16th century legend of the elopement of Dorothy Vernon, the heiress of Haddon Hall, and John Manners. However the setting of the story was changed to the 17th century.

Manners_and_DorothyCourtice Pounds (John Manners) and Lucille Hill (Dorothy Vernon), 1892.

In the first performance the roles of Vernon and Manners were played by Lucille Hill and Courtice Pounds.

Haddon Hall's long gallery c.1890 Derbyshire, England. Country House.

Haddon Hall circa 1890

Haddon Hall is an English country house in Derbyshire, and is one of the seats of the Duke of Rutland. These days it is used in film adaptations of Jane Eyre.

On this day: the defection of Alexander Godunov

Alexander Borisovich Godunov (Nov 28, 1949-May 18, 1995), Ballet Dancer .

On the 21st of August, 1979 Soviet ballet dancer Alexander Godunov defected to the United States. His defection took place during a Bolshoi Ballet tour to New York City.

Alexander Godunov

A childhood classmate of Mikhail Baryshnikov, Godunov was one of the Bolshoi’s star dancers, and the gold medal winner at the 1973 Moscow International Ballet Competition.

He was also a known actor in the USSR.

Alexander Godunov People 21st April 1985 Cover

Godunov was married to a company soloist at the time of his defection, though his wife did not defect with him.

THE MONEY PIT Tom Hanks, Alexander Godunov, 1986.

He went on to become a principal dancer of American Ballet Theatre until he had a falling out with Baryshnikov, after which he toured internationally and became a known actor in Hollywood.

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Godunov was found dead in his home in May, 1995.